Monthly Archives: January 2012

Now, We Need to Build the Internet Defense System

We did well. It was almost too late, but the rallying cry was loud and clear — we would not let a back room, lobbyist-driven bill that will restrict free speech, hamper innovation, and jobs.

But it was too close for comfort. I’d like to sit back and savor this moment, but I feel like a man who almost got shiv’d in the back in broad daylight. I don’t feel at ease with the current state of the world.

Piracy still exists, and as long as big media believes it hurts their bottom line, their hundred-million-dollar lobbying machine will continue to peddle their Dark Arts — campaign dollars, ex-senators, and lobbyists — to pass more bills like this. Maybe next time, we won’t notice. Maybe next time, they’ll add it to another bill as an amendment. Maybe next time, they’ll have a sympathetic White House. There are too many ways for the anti-Internet Freedom lobby to win.

There’s the short-term task of actually passing an anti-piracy bill that doesn’t restrict free speech and encourages innovation. Without a viable way to shut down truly illegal actors with due process, the anti-piracy lobby will continue to assault Internet freedom — and we’ll be back here again. The Internet groups (not just companies, but users) need to sit down and talk to them. The OPEN Act is much better, but I stil have some major reservations.

Long-term, there is much work to do.

First, we need an early warning system against those who seek to cripple Internet freedoms.
We need to know when the slippery slope begins before we’re rushing down it. We need a good lead time in order to create effective defenses. Think of this also as a diplomatic mission: With the ability to bring the other side to the table, we can stop the war before it begins.

Second, we need to educate Congress and we need Congress to educate us.
This means understanding how the legislative and lobbying ecosystems work. We need to show Congress that trying to pass the bill restricting the Internet yet professing “I’m no nerd” makes them ignorant buffoons worth voting out. And that requires people in the hallways of Congress shaking hands, making friends, and talking about our needs.

Third, but not least, we need to build and coordinate engines of mobilization.
The fact that we caught this bill days from a vote caused many of us to bring out the big guns — the blackout. Without the last-minute support of Wikipedia and Google, I don’t know what the outcome would have been. Even so, many sites continued to focus on SOPA when PIPA was the urgent need, this was a fight where every call mattered, yet we didn’t get the message out right — and that was just one of many coordination errors. We need an easier way to deploy calls, emails and votes to candidates that support Internet Freedom and even rally mainstream celebrities to our cause. We need to start building lists for mobilization and coordinate the efforts.

If you get robbed, you install locks, and learn how to protect yourself. We almost got robbed, even though we had some of the elements I listed above. But clearly, it’s not a strong enough system. The next step is to start generating ideas and building an Internet Defense System.

(This post is copyright free and now in the public domain. Copy and paste the crap out of it.)

Why Did the Anti-SOPA/PIPA Movement Go Viral So Quickly?

To understand any viral movement requires an understanding of the zeitgeist of their anger. Right now, thousands of sites big and tiny, have gone dark or shut down in protest of SOPA and PIPA. What’s more remarkable is that for most of us, we are engaging in a new form of protest — the Social Disobedience.

Unlike the Civil Disobedience of half a century ago, the Internet Generation (my 34-year-old self included) is using a more accessible and web-centric form of protest. The Internet Generation has virtually no money to speak of and doesn’t consider themselves influential in any way, but the groundswell of anger and frustration against censorship has encouraged a generation raised on apathy and recessions to take up arms against the powers that be. And the only arms they know of is their voices.

It would be foolish and irresponsible for politicians to ignore this form of protest. While it’s harder to ignore the protester on your doorstep, ignoring Social Disobedience will erode the social capital of any campaign — just ask any company who dealt with a user-revolt on Facebook or Twitter.

While the blackouts of Google and Wikipedia are notable and far-reaching, the insecure, unemployed graduate student expending their social capital to call attention to a political issue is the heart and soul of Social Disobedience. By leveraging their blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and their iPhones, the accidental protester is finding out just how power feels — and it feels right.

When the “young people” showed up to vote for Obama and when the “youth vote” put Ron Paul in the race — turning out and defying stereotypes — they are succeeding in their form of Social Disobedience. This is a generation that is highly educated, highly expressive and restless.

The rallying cry of the 1960’s was Love and Peace. The 2010’s brought us Openness and Free Expression. The groundswell against SOPA and PIPA isn’t just a reaction to the censorship, it’s the reaction to a real threat to these values we hold closest to our hearts. This is a generation who has seen the erosion of influence from voters to corporate interests with money. The only power that remains in the hands of this generation is their self expression, and SOPA/PIPA sought to restrict this last bastion. This is the zeitgeist of their anger.

During all my debates and interviews, it’s hard not to notice the growing chasm between those born of the Web and those born before. For men like Rupert Murdoch, the Internet is something to be controlled, feared and regulated. For the Internet Generation, it’s a rare freedom to be protected, celebrated and shared. It’s difficult to feel any sympathy for the Rupert Murdochs of the world (and their businesses) who complain that the politicians he paid changed positions in the face of voter protest. And it’s painful to watch former Senator Chris Dodd take the top job with the MPAA and call our Social Disobedience “an abuse of power“.

We can criticize the Internet Generation for being superficial, shallow and self-interested, but so is every generation in their youth. And now, we watch in awe as they flex their voices in unison in Social Disobedience.

We’re all proud of you, Internets. And don’t let anyone silence you.

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